Day 1: Bourbon, Bombs, and Butterballs
This past October marked our third visit to the Hudson Valley. We'd made it through two prior visits without being savaged by bears or attacked by rabid raccoons. We'd survived a 22 35 48 mile bike ride and the indignity of bike helmets. And although we'd had some close calls, we'd never actually been confronted by a jackalope. Overall, I was feeling pretty confident that this whole weekend-in-the-country thing wasn't so bad after all.
That's because I am the type of person who loves the idea of salt-of-the-earth activities like hiking, camping, and taking in the charms of small-town America. I dream of holing up in a country cabin with no electricity or running water, at one with Mother Nature. I am enamored with travel experiences that harken back to a simpler, more carefree time when the pace was slower, our lives less complicated. But when these ideas become reality and I am faced with things like sleeping bags, beef jerky, towns with the word "turkey," "pigeon," or "goose" in the name, fishing villages that actually smell like fish, or any house without an ironing board, I flinch. (Angel jumps in the car, locks all the doors, and leaves skid marks.)
The truth is, Angel and I like our "country" experiences to include artisanal cocktails, cashmere wraps, and refurbished farmhouses with heated floors and high-thread-count bed sheets. And we have found the perfect compromise in upstate New York's Hudson Valley: The area is quaint, charming, and bucolic, but with enough expat Manhattanites around to ensure that the whiskey in our drinks might be homemade, but by someone who first made $10 million on Wall Street so he could end up on a farm wearing steel-toed boots and overalls ironically.
Our first stop on the drive north was at Buttermilk Falls Inn in Milton, NY, which is home to the 40-acre Millstone Farm. As usual, the GPS did a bang-up job of getting us to our destination.
After beating my head against the dashboard a few times, we finally found the place, and we both agreed it had been worth the detour.
At least we found the place faster than this guy, who never even made it past the parking lot.
Millstone Farm produces nearly all of the fresh greens, organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, honey, and eggs used at the Inn's restaurant, Henry's at the Farm, and if all of this is not farm-to-table enough for you, then you are just going to have to milk your own cows next time.
We settled in at a table overlooking the lake and took in the lovely surroundings.
We both agreed that we couldn't pass up the day's special cocktail, dubbed the "Apple Butter Bourbon Ball," which is made with Maker's Mark Bourbon, a touch of Pastis, real maple syrup, and Millstone Farm's own ginger-gold apple butter, then topped off with a locally-made sparkling hard cider.
The name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue even before you've finished one, and so Angel and I referred to it as the "Apple Bourbon Butterball Turkey Bomb," as well as other various combinations of those five words.
For lunch, we enjoyed a creamy mascarpone and butternut squash soup studded with dried cranberries and garnished with fried sage, followed by a yummy flatbread with roasted Millstone Farm veggies and the decadent lobster mac & cheese.
And homemade chocolate chip cookies with a glass of cold milk for dunking.
The property at Buttermilk Falls is expansive, encompassing not just the restaurant, but also an inn, several freestanding cottages, a spa, a barn for weddings, numerous ponds and waterfalls, and the farm itself, which includes an aviary, an apiary, donkeys, and llamas.
On this particular day they were setting up for a wedding, but apparently no one informed the geese, and so this poor guy was given the impossible task of chasing them away. You know how a toddler in a high chair likes to fling things off the tray, watch you pick it up, then immediately knock it to the floor again? That was this guy with the geese.
We decided the explore the grounds, taking in the lovely views and emerging fall color.
We continued walking off our lunch by heading over to the goat and llama barn, which also included one very friendly donkey.
Before we knew it, it was time to check in at the house we'd rented for the weekend. As we'd done the year before, we chose "Creekside Manor," as we'd taken to calling it, as our home base.
Situated on four wooded acres at the end of a dirt road in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it village of Red Hook, Creekside Manor put us within easy driving distance of our favorite Hudson Valley towns, yet far enough from civilization to go au naturel in the hot tub if we felt like it.
When Esquire magazine names a bar in tiny Kingston, NY, one of "The Best Bars in America," you know you have to give it a try. And so, after settling in at the house and unpacking a bit, we gussied ourselves up, then set off for the Stockade Tavern, a Prohibition-style speakeasy located in a lovingly restored, 1880s-era sewing machine factory.
It was the wrong night for quiet sophistication: A music festival was in town and the bar was loud and crowded . . . with all sorts of folks.
Luckily, however, Angel managed to snag us a table for two near the front, insulating us from the scrum near the band.
I kept things simple with one of my favorite cocktails, a gimlet (this one made with Brooklyn's own Greenhook Gin), while Angel decided to try the Over the River, made with bell pepper-infused tequila, fresh lime, and green chartreuse, a French liqueur that's been made by Carthusian Monks since the 1700s.
Both drinks were delicious, and it would have been nice to have another, but our dinner reservations beckoned. And so we made the short walk over to Boitson's, a lively bistro and bar specializing in comfort classics like meatloaf, fried chicken, and prime rib.
How Boitson's came to be is one of those only-in-New-York stories: The owner, Maria Philippis, named the place for her former Brooklyn landlord, Alexander Boitson, a Ukrainian-American World War II veteran whom she'd befriended. They kept in touch over the years, even after Ms. Philippis moved to the Hudson Valley, and when Mr. Boitson died in 2007, he showed his fondness for Ms. Philippis by leaving her enough money to pursue her lifelong dream of opening a restaurant.
We kicked things off with an order of butternut squash fritters drizzled with honey, followed by two orders of the over-the-top delicious reason why we came here.
I don't know why they had to take up real estate with those green vegetables in there, but when the meatloaf is this good, you can overlook an errant Brussels sprout or two.
It had been a jam-packed day filled with great food and drink, and we were pleasantly exhausted. And so we drove back to Creekside Manor and tucked ourselves into bed.
But not before checking for wild jackalopes out on the deck.
Day 2: Go Take a Hike
Angel and I are not what you'd generally call the outdoorsy types. We don't camp because there are bugs, and it gets cold. We don't hike because there are heavy backpacks, and it gets cold. We don't ski because there are broken legs, and it gets really cold. Also, all of these activities sound suspiciously like work. Don't get me wrong: We both love and appreciate the natural beauty of the outdoors. It's just that we prefer to take it in from a safe distance, such as from behind a large picture window beside a roaring fire with an Old Fashioned in hand.
But the weather on Sunday was so ridiculously perfect that even two city slickers like ourselves had to get outside.
We started with a leisurely drive over to the country club at Copake Lake, whose restaurant, Greens, specializes in local ingredients and a lovely view of the surrounding countryside.
There, we fueled up on brunch staples for the bike ride to come.
Well, brunch staples and split pea soup.
The enclosed terrace was open and airy, allowing a 360-degree view of the fall foliage and bright blue sky outside.
Inside, a wood burning stove and floor-to-ceiling wine racks create a cozy atmosphere for chilly evenings.
After lunch, we soaked up the sun on the patio for a bit before heading out.
As has become our habit, we rented a couple of bikes from Bash Bish Bikes, which is just a short drive from Copake.
We hopped on our bikes and then spent the bulk of the afternoon taking in the spectacular beauty of Taconic State Park, followed by a ride along the Harlem Valley Rail Trail.
When we got tired we tried playing possum, but this little guy beat us to the punch.
Afterwards, we decided to check out Bash Bish Falls, reportedly just a stone's throw from the bike rental.
Apparently, however, "a stone's throw" means something different out in the country, which I discovered when I realized that I'd walked all the way to Massachusetts to see these damn falls.
All I know is, next time I foolishly decide to go on a hike, I'm bringing my passport just in case.
You know I didn't walk all the way to Massachusetts to not see a waterfall, so come along for Part 2, featuring waterfalls, a Dangling Deathtrap of Doom, and another apple-y cocktail, this one named for yours truly!